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Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs

Remarks by Deputy Secretary W. Scott Gould

Telework Summit and Kick-Off of the VA Telework Pilot
St. Regis Hotel, Washington, DC
June 16, 2011

Good morning. Let me extend a very warm VA welcome to our guests:

  • Pat Tamburrino, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Civilian Personnel Policy & Chief Human Capital Officer, Department of Defense.

  • Marie Letoile, from the Office of Personnel Management.

  • Teresa Noll, from the General Services Administration.

  • Cindy Auten, General Manager of the Telework Exchange.

Welcome, everyone, to the Telework Summit and to the official kick-off of VA’s pilot telework program—a 21st century initiative for 21st century employees.

Last year, at the White House Forum on Workforce Flexibility, President Obama had this to say: “Work is what you do, not where you do it.” Those words speak to the President’s commitment to bring the business of government in line with new technologies, new workforce demographics, and new and evolving people-centric business models.

Simply put, telework is an idea whose time has come. It responds directly to the imperatives of our technology-driven Information Age, where connectivity is king. Moreover, telework responds to the changing composition of our Federal workforce. As Baby Boomers retire in increasing numbers, we’re seeing an incoming generation of tech-savvy Millennials take their place. They are part of a virtual world—comfortably embracing ever-more-sophisticated computers, cell phones, Internet, instant messaging, and multi-media communication.

What’s more, they’re used to all the latest technology. They have it at home, and they expect it at work. And, perhaps most importantly, they place a high value on work-life balance and job satisfaction.

Under President Obama’s and OPM Director, John Berry’s leadership, workforce transformation is well underway through a broad set of reforms and initiatives. Telework is just one of them. From recruitment to retention and beyond, the rigidity and outdated protocols that have for so long characterized government employment are giving way. They simply have to if we are to attract our fair share of the best and brightest to government service. That’s why the President signed the Telework Enhancement Act, last December, and why we’re seeing a host of initiatives in every agency of government that address:

  • New approaches to workforce management;

  • Progressive policies;

  • Best practices; and,

  • Innovative ideas that support the people factor—those 2.7 million Americans who serve taxpayers with programs, services, and benefits that are the envy of the world.

It’s no secret that, today, there’s a big premium on flexibility. And nothing speaks more to workforce flexibility than strong telework programs. Increasingly, they are a component in successful human resources management, whether in the public or private sectors.

There are a number of reasons for this. First, there’s the economic advantage. A recent administration report estimates that widespread adoption of flexible workplace schedules could save roughly $15 billion a year through greater productivity, lower turnover, and reduced absenteeism. These are savings that could be reinvested to help drive growth in our economy and reduce the debt.

Then there’s a long list of other benefits. Telework reduces the strain on our transportation infrastructure as well as traffic congestion and accidents. Its environmental benefits are significant. It reduces greenhouse gases, lessens our carbon footprint, and supports the Clean Air Act by reducing pollutants like carbon dioxide.

Telework cuts commuting costs, especially gasoline consumption—not a small concern these days. It decreases work-space needs and the associated administrative and maintenance costs that go with it. It improves our disaster preparedness posture because fewer high-density work sites mitigate the chances of urban terrorism. And telework supports the Americans with Disabilities Act by widening the scope of employment opportunities available to the disabled, and by eliminating the often difficult task of physically getting to and from the workplace.

Last but not least, there’s that work-life balance issue I mentioned earlier. Our fast-paced, hectic schedules often mean that family and personal responsibilities are at odds with the traditional 9-to-5 onsite work schedule. We’ve all seen the day when we’ve had to stay home to care for a sick child, or when the sitter can’t make it. At one time or another, we’ve all had to wait for the repairman, get to the dentist, or take an aging parent to a medical appointment.

By telework alternatives, employees can take care of those real-life, day-to-day responsibilities and still stay connected and on the job.

Under Assistant Secretary Sepulveda’s leadership, we’re putting the systems in place to establish telework as a mainstream HR program. We’re identifying positions that lend themselves to—and are suitable for—telework. And we’re doing that using a consistently applied methodology across VA. We’ve tasked all VA managers and supervisors to actively promote telework opportunities among their staff. We’re developing appropriate training programs to ensure that supervisors have the new skill sets that go along with managing off-site personnel and allocating workloads.

VA is a results-oriented organization. Our human resources office is working to implement performance management practices, and supporting metrics, that address telecommuting and remote worksites. And we’re striving to eliminate cultural barriers. That means encouraging open-mindedness. Supervisors should not disapprove telework requests simply because they prefer their staff to be available at the workplace. Telework is not about place of performance; it’s about the quality of employee performance.

Secretary Shinseki and I are intent on building forward-leaning systems—most supported by technology—that encourage and advance our mission goals and productivity objectives:

Much like VA’s advancing telehealth initiatives, telework makes the case that practicality, convenience, and good outcomes count for more than an on-site VA location. We will use its benefits to:

  • Make VA more nimble and more responsive;

  • Increase our overall organizational effectiveness;

  • And reinforce our commitment to a culture of performance excellence.

As the Secretary has pointed out, “The better we provide for our employees, the better employees will be able to care for our Nation’s Veterans” and their families.

As we continue to transform VA to the benefit of Veterans, we can look to telework as a high-tech alternative to the status quo—a high-yield investment in people and their productivity.

And so, I’m pleased and privileged to be here this morning to welcome our guests from DoD, OPM, GSA, and the Telework Exchange to this Telework Summit, and to officially kick-off VA’s telework pilot program!

It’s an initiative that offers eligible VA employees the opportunity to give up on the crowded, congested parkways and freeways … and, instead, use the wide-open Information Superhighway to get to work.
Thank you, all.